Ender’s Game Movie “Review”

First some background information.

Ender’s Game is, for good reason, considered one of the best sci-fi books out there. Orson Scott Card (OSC) wrote the book in 1985 and it is what catapulted him into fame, despite the fact that most people who have read his fantasy work have told me that they prefer that over Ender’s Game. Personally I found Ender’s Shadow to be superior to Ender’s Game but thought both were good reads and a really interesting introduction to sci-fi. Card has continued to write in that universe and many others. However, he has also diverted off the path of just being a writer and is also using his name and money to support and promote other causes, primarily anti-LGBT and equality campaigns. His name is big enough, the amount of money he’s spent large enough and the timing of the movie is just right so that equality and LGBT activists have called for a boycott of any and everything that Card has touched. Really, Card has said a lot of stuff over the years and supported enough groups that are against the rights of others that I can think of very view people I know who wouldn’t offend Card. So then the question I must answer is why did I go to see the movie? Two things: The first is that he will not get enough money from my ticket to make up for me not wanting to support a new sci-fi film. We aren’t seeing enough of those coming from Hollywood and there’s a chance that if this one does well then they’ll look at doing others. Hopefully those others won’t include a writer who is as much of a dick as Card is. The second is that I was really curious to see if they’d be able to pull it off. Ender’s Game is such an internally driven book where few of the motivations can be easily played out by anyone and it would be ridiculous to have a character do voice over through most of the movie just to explain what’s going on.

For those like me who don’t like the idea of supporting Card much at all but do want to see the movie you can always donate money or your time to a GLBT/human rights group. You could do that even if you don’t go and see the movie, too.

Right, so the review part.

To get it out of the way – I did not like it as an adaptation of the book Ender’s Game. However, if it were just a standalone movie that took its cue from the book I’d find most of it to be pretty cool, good even. That was not the case though. Consider yourselves warned, there be spoilers beyond this point.

SPOILERS I TELL YOU! SPOILERS! (I hope that sounded as cool in your head as it did in mine.)

Ender Wiggin is not just smart, he’s a genius on par with Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark. Actually, all of the kids that were candidates for battle school are geniuses like that. It was never made clear in the movie that these kids are waaaaaaay more intelligent than their teachers. It wasn’t made clear that they were all expected to be able to fight as much with their bodies as their brains. It also wasn’t made clear that they spent a long time on the battle school. It wasn’t clear that these kids start at 5 or 6 years old and don’t leave until they’re between twelve and fourteen. Yeah, they had to compress some of that in the movie, okay, I’ll give them that. But there is no way in this world that they could have compressed it to fit into less than a year and that they had twenty eight days from the last Dragon battle to the start of the “real” war like what was displayed on their countdown timer of doom. That made the whole thing even less likely. That was the point that I decided they really didn’t know what they were doing.

Oh, it was never made clear either that these students were expected to be able to kill and that it was one of the things that got them into battle school, that ability to do so. Ender got in because he killed the first kid. He stayed in and was recognized as the person they were looking for because he killed Bonzo but hated himself from the moment that he realized he was going to do it. Bonzo didn’t trip, he was killed. If they had done those sequences right then the dialogue with Valentine where she tells him that he isn’t like Peter because he has to be able to love someone before he can kill them would make so much more sense. As it is they just sort of hang there.

Once the movie goes up to the battle school, we’re up there and never hear anything more about what’s going on down on the ground. There was so much politicking going on down there and Ender’s siblings were THE movers and shakers. They did so much and there wasn’t even a nod to it in the movie. Bah!

They decided to compress all of the “simulated” battles to less than a half-dozen, okay, fine, I can understand that. However, there was no reason whatsoever to move EVERYONE to a planet outside the solar system! They even threw around the word ansible and communication even if they didn’t explain it. Being closer to the fight meant nothing AND it got rid of the point that this whole damn thing had been planned years and years and years in advance. The *only* reason for making that change was so Ender could walk outside his little safe place and find the queen’s egg, which screwed up the ending in so many ways I can’t count them all. The way they showed Ender finding the random Queen egg just laying around WITH a dying queen to protect it did two things: showed that there were probably more formics living in other places and that Ender didn’t complete genocide and made the entire fleet appear to be entirely incompetent for not making sure the area around their base was clear, at least far enough that a kid couldn’t walk for a few minutes and run into a formic. You know, an alien that has a strong history of trying to kill humans without asking any questions? GAH! That was just bad. Bad, bad, bad.

A few things they almost got right – the relationship between Ender and Petra. I think Hollywood actually wanted to make it into a love thing but someone came by and said “no, that’s going to get you killed more than this whole Card thing is,” so they didn’t. Instead they made it borderline, which I can deal with. Petra rescues Ender, makes him look awesome and they work well as a team. Alai gets named and the lesson he teaches Ender about peace is there. Bean is mentioned though it’s more like the screenwriters were told to name one of the kids “Bean” and to make him smaller and spin around in the battle room.

Oh the battle room. You know, I will forgive them for how they portrayed it. Yeah, fine, they completely screwed up with the design of the school and how the battle room was supposed to look and how the whole gravity thing worked there. I never expected them to get it right anyway. However, I do think that the visuals we got from their version was pretty damn awesome and much more visually pleasing than the big white/gray/black room that I had from the book. I don’t think movie audiences would have been satisfied with a battle room that was true to the books.

I’ll even give them the few battles they showed. They did a lot better will all of that than I had expected them to. I hope to see some of the things they learned from filming those scenes pop up in other movies because it was really fun.

I’ve totally lost all my steam here, so I’m just going to leave it at my previous assessment. If I hadn’t gone in knowing it was supposed to be Ender’s Game it would have been a whole hell of a lot better. Generic space sci-fi movie gets 4/5 stars, Ender’s Game adaptation gets 1.5/5 stars. They intentionally got too many things wrong for me to give it any higher of a rating.


A Lawyer, A Scholar, and Madness

Biography essay about a woman I have come to respect so much.

Professor Elyn R. Saks is a woman with an impressive number of awards, titles and accomplishments tied to her. She is a professor of psychology, psychiatry and behavioral health for the University of Southern California Gould School of Law as well as the assistant dean of research there. She is also an adjunct professor for the University of California, San Diego, school of medicine, and a psychoanalyst with the New Center for Psychoanalysis (Saks 2013). She recently was awarded the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for her creativity and immeasurable contribution to the law especially as it relates to mental health patient rights and ethics. Through all of this she also suffers from schizophrenia, a life-long thought disorder that has left her hospitalized twice in England and once again in the United States. Her passion as an advocate in the field of mental health stems from her own experiences within the system as a patient and again as a lawyer for those who have found themselves a part of the mental health system. As if that wasn’t enough for any one person to balance she is also a cancer survivor. Sak’s story is one of an indomitable will and resilience in the face of multiple setbacks and difficulties. In 2007 she published her memoir, The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, her retelling of her own recovery and her desire to chip away at the social stigma of severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia . Her retelling of her insights even at the worst of her psychosis is something which any mental health professional and lawyer should pause to consider, and her capacity to not only remember what she experienced when her symptoms were at their worst but also to talk to others about those experiences makes her the ideal advocate for mental health patients everywhere in the United States.

Saks has had a variety of experiences as a patient with paranoid schizophrenia and severe depression, some good and some bad. Her first hospitalization occurred while she was in a post-graduate philosophy program at Oxford. She was severely depressed and experiencing many paranoia

and psychosis including what is called ideas of reference and influence, which means she both thought that other beings were inserting thoughts into her head and that she was making things happen like killing people with her thoughts. Her thinking was so disorganized to the point that she could not string together a full, coherent thought. Her sentences, or what passed as a sentence when she was that sick, were full of incomplete sentences and unrelated words with the only accompanied association being rhymes or puns. These symptoms became a hallmark of her later psychosis, becoming more and more difficult to control as well as much more severe and debilitating, a waking nightmare as she has come to describe it (Dvorsky). During her time in England she resorted to such behaviors as burning herself and wandering alone in the tunnels beneath the hospital she was receiving treatment in. An interesting thing about the way the English psychiatric hospital system works is that despite her significant symptoms and self-harming behavior she was never once placed in seclusion or in restraints. The hospital doors were always open and every patient had the right to leave or stay and had a say in their own treatment, including whether they would take medications or not. Her case was not anything special; England had not used restraints or seclusion in their mental health treatment in over 200 years. Saks later compared this quite humane and compassionate treatment theory to what she experienced in the United States and used it as a reference in articles and books that she later published while in law school at Yale and later in her career. Her hospitalizations in the United States included wild swings between two very different systems of treatment: frequent use of restraints, seclusion and forced medications or redirection and encouragement to use coping skills to play out her anger and frustration. However, none of her treatment programs in the United States encouraged her to explore just what it was that she was experiencing in her psychotic state. Actually, they did the exact opposite in that the doctors and nurses were startled and scared of her and her delusions and psychosis and discouraged her from saying out loud what was going on in her head. This in direct contrast to what had been encouraged during her stay in England where she had succeeded in continuing to work on some of her masters level research and

essays even while she was hospitalized. She had felt heard, understood, and supported and therefore her recovery was faster and her time in the English system of treatment for mentally ill individuals was a relatively positive experience for her. She had very little that was positive to say about the American treatment system. It was a lesson and awareness that continues to influence her even now.

Another hard lesson for her was discussing her concerns and observations with psychiatric and law professionals who had a very different view of what was beneficial for psychotic and other mental health patients than what her experience showed her. She discussed the use of mechanical restraints with a professor she greatly respected. She was arguing that regardless of whether someone was psychotic or not the use of restraints is degrading and dehumanizing. Rather than understanding she discovered that he held the same opinion as most every other psychiatric professional in 1980s, “Elyn, you don’t really understand. These people are psychotic. They’re different from me and you. They wouldn’t experience restraints the same way we would” (NPR). Saks, at that time still a student in the Yale law program, was unable to tell her professor that his opinion regarding the difference between a psychotic and non-psychotic individual was wrong, that there was no difference between a psychotic and non-psychotic individual (NPR). She knew then that if she was to tell any of her professors about her own mental illness then her chances of being taken seriously as a lawyer were few. The stigma of mental illness was, and continues to be, so strong that even well educated and sympathetic people viewed themselves as different from anyone with a psychiatric illness. The us and them mentality does not stop at the border of a psychiatric treatment facility either. Within the micro-communities of inpatient hospitals there is an unvoiced hierarchy. People with less obvious illnesses like bulimia or anxiety or even depression considered themselves better, in some ways more human, than those with schizophrenia or other thought type disorders. Even during her own time in several inpatient facilities Saks had much of the same opinions. People who scared her were not the same as her, she was better than them, she didn’t need to be in the same place as them. She was confronted by her own

discrimination when another person in the same inpatient facility told her that he knew he didn’t need to be there any longer because he was nowhere near as sick as she was. He was too sane to be around someone like her.

Saks could have taken that sort of information and just tossed it away. She was still floridly psychotic when she was told this, but she had enough insight to know that she needed to take that sort of thinking into consideration. The next decade or so the mantra of “I don’t belong here because I’m not that sick” was something that stuck with her and which she used over and over to convince her providers that she needed to try getting off medications, that she was okay, that she really wasn’t someone with a mental illness. She was just not as good as everyone else at controlling her reactions and interactions with the very scary things that were going on in her brain. She was convinced that everyone from the other law students to her psychotherapists had the same sort experiences of killing thousands of people with their thoughts and that they were personally killed and tortured many times over by the same demons she fought with. They just knew how to keep quiet about it. Up until the 1990s even when she was on medications that helped with the delusions and paranoia she was experiencing she still had a lot of breakthrough symptoms. She described the experience as always having to fight to keep the door between the scary, intrusive thoughts and her own thoughts and what was going on in the real world. She could always feel or hear the scary things, they were always there at the edge of her consciousness trying to push through and torment her further. She had not really known anything else and so it was not a large leap of logic to think that every other person had the same problem of trying to keep nightmares from taking over their way of thinking. All that changed, her entire perspective changed, when she started on some of the newer antipsychotic medications that were developed in the 1990s. Saks described her experience in an interview she did with NPR in February, 2013, “I think I only really came to terms with having the illness and being careful about how I structured my life, ironically, when I got on really good medication. It made me realize that, you know, these

chaotic and violent thoughts weren’t things that everybody had.” Suddenly she wasn’t always aware of those nightmares knocking on some internal door in her mind. Her thinking was much more clear, she was less tired and much relieved that she didn’t have to fight to hold that door closed every moment she was awake.

Once Saks stopped fighting her illness she found that she was not as confined by it as she had been every day that she had struggled against it. Rather than being Elyn Saks, the lady who was always in fear of being the crazy bag lady muttering and yelling at buildings, she discovered she was able to be Professor Elyn Saks, a successful lawyer, teacher and good friend who happened to occasionally need to take some space for herself. Once she no longer wasted so much energy fighting to keep her thoughts straight or worrying over whether anyone else could see that she was struggling so much she was able to do more for herself. She began a program to become a psychoanalyst. She started dating again and married a very supportive man. She established herself as an expert in the law as it applies and relates to psychiatric cases through the research and publication of many books and reports focusing on the complicated ethics that often surround them. With colleagues at the University of California, San Diego she has started a research program to find other high functioning individuals with schizophrenia. With the release of her memoir and her even more recent TED talk she has joined the dozens of other individuals who advocate for recognizing and challenging the stigma related to mental illness. She has become so well known for her advocacy that celebrities like Glenn Close gave her a shirt that says “Schizophrenia” after asking her to be on the board of her nonprofit organization Bring Change 2 Mind (NPR Day). She has demonstrated that a diagnosis like schizophrenia is not a sentence to a life of little fulfillment or joy but is rather something that an individual can learn to work with and around to lead a completely productive life full of accomplishments and community service. Saks’s continued contribution to both the field of psychiatry and psychiatric law is one that completely contradicts the “grave” prognosis her psychiatrists gave her many years ago. Saks has been exceptionally successful in

her life in spite of her mental illness. “There are not schizophrenics. There are people with schizophrenia and these people may be your spouse, they may be your child, they may be your neighbor, they may be your friend, they may be your coworker” (Saks 2012).